One thing is certain in this uncertain world – you can trust Ashley Hutchings to do interesting things with various areas of British folk and rock music. In the case of the Albion Dance Band, under its various names, the focus was on mutating traditional English dance and folk music, which led to escapades involving traditional tunes, Morris dancers, double drummers, dance callers, Philip Pickett's entire collection of medieval instruments, and serious rock guitar front lines that tend to leap onto the hay cart and start blazing away. The Prospect Before Us is particularly unusual, even for Hutchings and the Albions – a number of the tracks were recorded live in the studio, complete with dancing by the Albion Morris Men, an effort that resulted in some especially raucous moments: the bonus version of "Merry Sherwood Rangers" is far more staid than the live rendition that made it to the original version of this album. An essential purchase, we think.
Battle of the Field was recorded by the Albion Country Band in 1973, but it wasn't released until 1976. The delay didn't really matter, since the group's music – traditional English folk played on electric instruments – is essentially timeless. The group wasn't quite as skilled as Fairport Convention, but they were nevertheless extraordinarily talented, and this arguably remains their finest moment.
John Abercrombie's 1989 release UPON A TIME is, as the subtitle points out, an album of duets, mostly with bassist Mel Graves and drummer George Marsh. While bass and drum solos are often the punchlines of musical jokes, Graves and Marsh are skilled players with enough good taste to keep the flashiness to an interesting minimum. As for guitarist Abercrombie, his playing is typically brilliant, whether picking out the traditional melody of "My Scottish Heart" or moving into a more impressionistic sonic arena in tracks like "In the Woods" or "Chuck Man Rivers." Earthier and more expressly jazz-based than many releases on the ECM-affiliated New Albion label, UPON A TIME is a satisfying, richly rewarding album.
Shirley Collins' collaboration with the Albion Country Band for No Roses is considered a major event in the history of British folk and British folk-rock. For it was the first time that Collins, roundly acknowledged as one of the best British traditional folk singers, sang with electric accompaniment, and indeed one of the first times that a British traditional folk musician had "gone electric" in the wake of Dave Swarbrick joining Fairport Convention and Martin Carthy joining Steeleye Span. The album itself doesn't sound too radical, however. At times it sounds something like Fairport Convention with Shirley Collins on lead vocals, which is unsurprising given the presence of Ashley Hutchings on all cuts but one, and Richard Thompson and Simon Nicol on most of the selections (Dave Mattacks plays drums on a few tracks for good measure). The nine songs are almost wholly traditional tunes with Collins' arrangements, with perhaps a jauntier and folkier mood than that heard in early-'70s Fairport, though not much. It's more impressive for Collins' always tasteful smoky vocals than for the imagination of the material, which consolidates the sound of the more traditional wing of early-'70s British folk-rock.